My latest Post.

This view,this beauty
A tear unbidden
Creeps into my eye.

My stay is short
But I shall return to this place
If only my life is long enough.

Such beauty
Gazing upon it
I hope my years are many.

Bokusui Wakayama.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

In Search Of Shoryaku-ji Temple.

In Autumn.
                                  History of Shoryaku-ji.
   Shoryaku-ji (the suffix "ji" means Temple) was founded by the Priest   Kenshun, a son of Kaneie Fujiwara (the Prime Minister of the day) and was constructed by edict of Emperor Ichijo in 992AD. Upon completion the complex consisted of some 86 buildings - a large Temple, Halls and Pagodas - but, after several fires over the years, all that remain today is the Main Hall, Shoro (Belfry) and Fukujyuin (Guest Palace).
Bronze image of Yakusi-nyorai.
The Fukujyuin Temple houses many Buddhist artifacts, including this bronze image of Buddha Yakusi-nyorai, made in the 7th century. The image has been designated a National Cultural Asset.
   Shoryaku-ji is also famous for the Autumn colors that adorn the many trees surrounding the complex (as in the above image) and also has the distinction of being the first place to produce Refined Sake.

Map Location.

   Those of you that read my post on the SamaSama Beer Garden (If you didn't, now is your opportunity, it's an excellent piece of literature if I say so myself) will remember this image. It was here, while resting my bike against a signpost, that I noticed the placard advertising the facility. But there was another signpost that also attracted my attention.

It was this sign, giving wary travelers directions to Shoryaku-ji Temple. I took note of the temple's name and, when I returned home, began surfing-the-internet for any information. Within a short time I was placing this destination on my "Must See" list. Some of the images I found astounded me and, on top of that, it's location - tucked-away in the hills overlooking the Obitoke area of Nara City.
Before long I was mapping a circular-course (beginning/ending at the signpost) that would allow me the opportunity to experience some of the great Japanese rural scenery that I like so much, as-well-as some of the local history. I estimated my course to be around 6km long but, what I didn't take into account, was the four deviations I would come-across along the way.
              So, without any further-ado, lets go in search of Shoryaku-ji.
Tumulus Pond.
Map Location.
500-meters into my walk and I encountered my first deviation. The distinctive vermillion-colored Torii in the distance was a lure for me to investigate.
Map Location.
With the help of a noticeboard, and the assistance of my dear wife, I discovered that this is a Tumulus Pond and, where the Torii are located, is the Ookawaike Kofun. Within this area are five kofun, the most famous being the Itsutsuzuka-Tomb (sorry,unable to find any information). 
Map Location.
Back onto the sealed-road again, and some of the great rural scenery I mentioned earlier. In the past weeks the rice has been planted and, for the first few weeks, the fields are flooded which makes for some very beautiful photo opportunities. But also, when you are this isolated, the beauty is added-to with the serenity of the area. 
Roadside Jizo.
As I make my way up the valley I pass the occasional roadside Jizo Bodhisattva. One can come-across these everywhere and in some of the most unlikely places. They are one of the most beloved of all the Japanese Divinities. One of their (many) purposes is to protect children, expectant-mothers, firemen and travelers. 
Map Location.
Also, as I make my way up the valley, I notice at intervals along the way these posters tied to roadside fences & barriers. Judging by the art they were created by children and their content indicates they were put there to dissuade people from disposing of their rubbish.The one in the image on the right, I thought the best. 
Map Location.
I am about to enter the forest and leave the sealed-road behind. This is my kinda' environment and I am at home here with the sound of the water flowing down the stream, the calls of the different species of birds, the trees creaking as they rub against each other in the wind. A couple-of-weeks ago this area was struck by a severe typhoon. Severe, in as much of the amount of water it dumped on the ground, and evidence of the rain is still visible. The sign is informing me that Shoryaku-ji is just 700-meters away.
   Out of the bush, and back to civilization. The signpost is informing me that I am within reach of Shoryaku-ji as-well-as giving me directions the where I have just come from and where my next destination will be (after I have completed my tour of the area).
   As I step-onto the road I get my first glimpse of Shoryaku-ji. Within seconds I begin to get a feeling for what this place must look like in Autumn.

    This must be an artists heaven, and that is regardless of genre. With all the Autumn images I have seen of Shoryaku-ji, I will be placing this destination on my "Must return" list. After perusing a nearby noticeboard, with map of the complex, my plan is to wander to the top and work my way down. The feeling I am getting at this early stage, is that the complex will require at least an hour to cover (little did I know, it would be nearer two-hours).
Map Location.
   My first stop is this little temple nestled-amongst the forest (the track leading me to this spot looked very-inviting and may require further investigation, on a later visit) that has a stream flowing past on the right. In the distance is a bridge with waterfall behind it. All very picturesque.
Stone Buddha Images

Just a few meters down from the small temple is a collection of Stone Buddhist Images (there is another impressive display further-down the road that offered a better opportunity to photo) and, up in amongst the trees, is a belfry. To access the upper compound, one has to ascend some eighty steps (80-steps may not seem many, but, on a hot day, they can be quite a chore to climb).
Shoryaku-ji Head Hall.
(Main Hall).
 Upon arrival you are greeted with this magnificent structure and, regardless of the time of year you visit this complex, this would remain an image etched in ones memory for some time to come.
   There are not many buildings to see in this location, but, what is here, is well worth the effort to experience.
Map Location.
I will let this video give you an idea of the beauty and serenity of the site - Video of Main Hall and Belfry.
Small Shrine.
It is difficult today to conceive of the life of by-gone times and, what remains here, does little to remind us of Shoryakuji's glorious past.
   Now, onto the highlight of my visit to Shoryaku-ji, the Fukujyuin Temple. Designated a "National Cultural Asset" for it's Kyakuden's (Guest Palace) architectural style of the 17th-century, it has the Kokerabkui roof which consists of layered wooden shingles.
Gate, entrance to
Fukujyuin Temple.
As you stroll from the Main Hall area to the entrance to Fukujyuin Temple, the Bodaisen River meanders through the grounds and is partly camouflaged by the overhanging trees.
Fukujyuin Temple.
Please remember, when entering a temple, to remove your footwear. It's not until you enter the temple proper you realize the beauty that will unfold as you wander about the building. I was very-privileged to have been given a personal tour by the priest and was taken to see some of the many treasures that are housed here. All very precious and old (most dating-back many centuries). The most impressive was the "Sentai Jizo-bosatsu" with it's 1,007 carved miniature bodhisattivas' (all about 2cm in height).
One of the
"Four Seasons"
Painter Eino Kano.
Throughout the drawing-room are many paintings by Eino Kano, one of the representative painters of the 17th-century (you may be getting the idea by now, how my planned one-hour visit, was turning-into a two-hour visit). If the interior wasn't enough to capture my attention, then the exterior was just .............. (sorry,I can't find the right word to express my feelings. Maybe this image will give you a better idea).
Could you imagine a better view out of your drawing-room? I couldn't. I was able to capture some images on my video camera - Inside Fukujyuin Temple.
   Time to put my boots back on and grab my pack and hit-the-road. I was so grateful for the personal attention the priest gave me in showing me parts of the temple not many would get to see (I forgot to ask him about the Refined Sake Shoryaku-ji is famous for. Oh well, another excuse to return).
   About 500-meters down the road from Shoryaku-ji, was this collection of statues. The two, in the image on the left, are Nakiwarai Jizo. They stand at the foot of two very-tall trees.
   To the left of the jizo statues are a collection of Monk Tomb's. This collection, of which there are two, I found the easiest to photograph. This video will give you a better idea of the area.
   The second of my four deviations was just a stones-throw away when my attention was drawn to this Ryobu-torii, a daiwa torii, set in amongst the bush. This type of torii is distinctive for the four square posts that are used to reinforce the pillars. Those of you who have visited, or seen images of the Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima, will recognize this torii.

Torii, entrance
Shingu-jinja Shrine.
Map Location.
    Two down, and my third deviation is just another kilometer away. My original purpose was to find a spot to break for lunch and the track on my right seemed my best opportunity to sit in the shade.
Map Location.
This monument, made-up of many rocks, announced the entrance to the Tsubakimoto-jinja Shrine but, as it required another flight of steps to ascend, and I didn't have the energy to climb, I gave it a miss and pressed-on. No regrets though as this allowed me the opportunity to wander-through the quaint wee village of Kitatsubaocho and this interesting set of Jizo.
Map Location.
  Another kilometer later and I was becoming desperate for a shaded-spot to break for lunch (lunch? It was nearly 2pm,afternoon-tea more like it) so anything that offered me shelter and a place to sit on was fine by me.
 Map Location.
This rock marker on the side of the road gave me hope and, if luck was on my side, would lead me to somewhere to have lunch. The track passed-around the side of someones house (I must admit I was a bit worried that I may have been trespassing) and into the forest.
 Map Location.
The presence of a torii gave me the confidence to press-ahead then, after quite a steep climb, I rounded a corner and was greeted with.......
Torii, entrance
to an
Map Location.
I had stumbled-upon an isolated Inari-jinja (so isolated that, as I rounded the corner, a wild deer scampered-into the bush. If I had been quick I could have taken a photo of it). Oh how delicious my lunch tasted - ham, tomato & cucumber sandwiches washed-down with a hot cup of latte. Then, and the icing-on-the-cake, a glass of nice warm Sake, courtesy of my friend Tanaka-san from Takayama. Domoarigatoogozaimasu Tanaka-san. This is the Video.
   An hour later, and with some reluctance, I made my way back down the path to resume my journey. As I entered the village of Takahicho, I happened-upon this very-unusual clock tower.
 Map Location.
I say unusual as, if I hadn't stopped to check my location, I would have passed this without knowing it was there, and also, it doesn't really resemble a clock tower, but something like a big fence-post.
   From here it was a nice, uneventful, one-kilometer walk back to the starting point and from there onto the J・R Obitoke Station and home. This was a great days outing and it has been a pleasure to share my experience with you. I know there is more in this area for me to explore and, who knows what surprises I shall discover.

I would like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the Priest at Shoryaku-ji for giving me his time to show me around Fukujyuin Temple. Also to the photographers, who's  images I have used in this blog. And, last-but-not-least, Tanaka-san for that great bottle of Sake. It was just the tonic for this wary traveler.

   This is a link to my "Ride With G・P・S" page. On this link is the course, along with information such as distance & elevation as-well-as points-of-interest and photos. 


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